It was just about a year ago that the Miami Herald started rolling out the horrific installments of its investigation into the rampant abuses that make Florida's nursing homes and assisted-living facilities hell on earth for many of the state's elderly and infirm residents. The paper revealed tales of starvation, deprivation, conditions not fit for animals, much less your loved ones – enough shocking material that it prompted a demand for investigation and reform of the industry. A governor's task force was appointed, bills were introduced, the federal government sent chiding letters, everyone was angry.
And then, in true bureaucratic form, nothing happened. All of the bills died, the legislative session ended and everyone in Tallahassee went back to sleep.
The only person left kicking and screaming over the dismal state of affairs in the state's assisted-living facility industry has been the only guy who's been kicking and screaming about it all along – former Florida Long Term Care Ombudsman Brian Lee,who kicked and screamed so much on behalf of the residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities that he was told to resignshortly after Gov. Rick Scott took office. Apparently, he was such a good advocate that he was pissing everyone off – and by everyone, we mean the industry, which complained about him and even sent a helpful letter to the state recommending its own hand-picked replacement for Lee.
Lee, who has continued his advocacy work as executive director of the nonprofit Families for Better Care, sued the state charging that it illegally interfered with the Ombudsman's office and fired him for being a whistle-blower. The state filed a motion to dismiss the suit, claiming that the industry's complaints to the state about Lee are protected under “free speech,” but last week Circuit Court Judge James Shelfer said the case will move forward, much to the consternation of industry lawyers and lobbyists.
“What is at stake here in this case truly is the liberty to discuss publicly all matters of public concern and particularly to petition the government to redress grievances,” Florida Health Care Association lawyer Kari Aasheim told the Miami Herald.
Nice try, but that's not what's at stake at all – Lee's suit doesn't seek to keep lobbyists and special interests from petitioning the government. It does, however, seek to keep the government from doing the bidding of those special interests at the peril of the people – especially when those people are at their most vulnerable.
“I'm really excited about the fact that what could come out of this is the potential for ombudsman case law on interference and intimidation against the office,” Lee says. “That would be completely unprecedented.”
And now it's time for This Week in Crazy™!
We begin this week's installment in sunny South Florida, where Allen West – Florida's first black Republican congressman since Reconstruction – channeled Joseph McCarthyand announced to the world last week that he's “heard” that “there's about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members of the Communist Party.” At least, that's the part the Palm Beach Post reported – which was true, though incomplete.
Actually, West was responding to a question from some goober at a town hall about how many members of Congress were “card-carrying members” of the Communist Party, and after matter-of-factly uttering his soon-to-be-virally-infamous remarks, he paused for about 30 seconds of nervous audience pearl clutching, then added, “No, they actually don't hide it. It's called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”
Because – get it? – progressives are communists. Hilarious! Equal rights for women, wanting billionaires to actually pay a reasonable amount of taxes, not bombing brown people into the Stone Age – it's the second coming of Stalin, thank you very much, President B. Hussein Marxbama.
You can guess the rest of the story: The media worked itself up into a tizzy, which is exactly what West, a cockalorum fameball if there ever was one, wanted. Perhaps this was just his way of getting back in the far right's graces after his heretical suggestion last month that maybe Trayvon Martin didn't have it coming. Perhaps he's a skilled outrage generator who gets off on liberals denouncing him. Or perhaps he's just nuts. Either way … ugh.
Speaking of skid marks on the state's tighty-whities, last Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott's Facebook team – he has almost 80,000 likes– posted an image of an issue of the Miami Herald proudly headlined, “New Law Helps Put Floridians Back to Work.” The Scott Facebook team instructed its followers to “check out the editorial in yesterday's Miami Herald.” And what do you know, someone did.
Turns out, Team Scott was making shit up. Surprise!
To be fair, there was an op-ed in the previous day's Herald under that banner, written by the president of Workforce Florida, praising the governor for signing a bill that will tighten accountability for the state's 24 regional workforce boards.
The problem, as Herald managing editor Rick Hirsch explains, is that “it certainly wasn't a news story,” which Scott's Facebook post implied. “A piece like that would never run on the front page of the Miami Herald.” Nor was it written by a Herald reporter or editorial writer.
The image was a badly Photoshopped Herald front page from 2007. The Herald's managing editor called it a fraud and demanded that Scott's people take it down. They complied. It's not unusual for politicians to use faux-newspaper headlines to trumpet their faux-accomplishments, but usually these appear under the banner of the Daily Bugle or The News or some other generic, fictitious non-paper. Implying that a real newspaper endorsed – a front-page endorsement, no less – a non-existent jobs billputs a whole new twist on that meme.
The state party blamed Harris Media, the Austin, Texas-based third party it contracts with to run Scott's Facebook page. But while we're on the subject, maybe we should check in on the state's jobs progress.
Florida has the 45th highest unemployment ratein the union. And last year, the governor, who pledged during the campaign to create 700,000 new jobs over normal job growth over seven years, walked that back to 700,000 jobs, period. Even if we're grading on that curve, he's still behind.
Someone please tell us who the 38 percent of Floridians who approve of Scott's performance are. We'd like to have a word with them.